Clarification of our Cheating Policy

By Rich Stone, 6 years ago
Yesterday's post on the upcoming changes to our cheater policy unfortunately caused a lot of confusion and a fair bit of anxiety from the TA Community.

I can assure you that this was not the intention of the post (or indeed the changes), and for that I must deeply apologize.

Yesterday I asked the Investigations Manager to clarify the new levels and what actually constitutes "cheating" here on TrueAchievements.

His reply is below - it's long, but very important, and I urge you to read it all before posting a reply.


Oh look, another wall of text from the Investigations Manager.

I’m going to let my guard down for a moment, be less business like and try to show everyone that investigations isn’t some evil monster lurking in the closet just waiting to take away all of your achievements and banish you from TA. This post may be considered a little wordy, but it’s really hard to post something short and concise about something that is so difficult to explain and understand. Even more so when everything I say (or don’t say) is going to be picked apart by people who still think that boosting or using Fallout 3 console commands should be considered cheating. I'll be weaving in and out of several topics and there is a lot of information to digest, but it should be worth reading if this stuff interests you at all.

First I want to apologize to everyone for freaking them out with our recent announcement (Adjustments to TA Cheater Status ). Being on the investigations team can be quite challenging. Nearly everything we do is discussed and voted on which means changes come fairly slowly for the team. We’ve been working on the NonStat and GS Only tracking for what seems like forever. It would have been impossible to get every detail explained right the very first time. No matter how much we try to get everything explained, we sometimes forget that people outside of the team may not have the same insight that we have in to things like gamesaving, profile swapping, and profile editing. Which means when we read the word "cheat" we know what it means to the team, but don't think about what it means to other people.

The problem is really with the way some people use the word "cheat". When I talk about cheating, I'm specifically talking about what the investigation team looks at when we are deciding if someone is using an illegitimate means to obtain achievements. Generally speaking you could replace our use of the word "cheating" with "hacking". However some cheating doesn't require any real technical hacking skills. Many of you would argue that Fallout console commands, boosting, and in-game cheat codes are cheating. Technically you are right. These are all methods of skipping some portion of a game. However these issues will not get your score reset by Microsoft, and the TA Investigations Team doesn't concern itself with these issues. Additionally we do not concern ourselves with hacked avatars, people who steal games, and things like hacked weapons. These are impossible for us to prove and prefer that Microsoft deal with these accounts on their own.

The intention of the original post was to be a bit more transparent about how we are handling things here on TA to protect ratios (and thus TA score). We often see that when someone has their tracking suspended on TA they immediately post things about how the investigations team is treating them unfairly. We don’t really have any ability to defend ourselves by showing the evidence against their achievements. Our effort to be more transparent is to help reassure the community that we do in fact do our research and are trying to handle things gracefully.

Do we ever get it wrong? I’m sure we do, but we really strive not to. For those of you that are interested in the process I'd like to reinforce that we don't just take reports from users and immediately start voting on the accused. One of the investigation team members will take the report and validate if there is any merit to it at all. If they find that something does look bad, they will continue to scan the rest of the card for problems. If enough evidence turns up the report is sent to the accused who has a week to respond to the charges. After they enter their side of the story (or a week with no response has passed) then the team will vote on the charges.

We collect and log every known issue and successful report defense. When anyone on the team encounters a glitched achievement, weird pop order, or other anomaly we record it in our list of issues that we don't report on. When something comes up that isn't in our list, we have a tool on TA that allows us to see if anyone else on the site has had the same problem. If hundreds of people have had the same issue, we know it's a bug in the game. When only 2 or 3 have it might be something worth looking in to as it could be a side effect of gamesaving or bad profile editing. It's amazing the amount of consistency you can find in bugs when having the ability to check the unlock orders of over 185,000 sets of achievements.

The changes are primarily designed to allow people who have already been removed from TA to come back to the site. A few people have already been let back on and there are sure to be more following. I haven’t gotten a single investigations PM that was from someone who was previously removed that has been anything but positive (so far). I’m not saying that these people are ecstatic that they won’t get leaderboards back, but to them the alternative (no tracking) is much worse. Some of these people continue to declare their innocence, while others have come to grips with admitting they hacked their achievements. My problem has always been with the people who just might be telling the truth and did nothing wrong at all. The site just didn't give us any way to handle when they were the only person on the site to have a particular problem on their card.

While many people understood the full ramifications of the change, many others latched on to two other key points that I want to touch on.

What is considered cheating?
If Microsoft allows it to happen, then it isn’t cheating. Things like in-game cheat codes, Fallout 3 PC console commands, and boosting are great examples of things that are not cheating. While it’s true that some developers may issue game bans for boosting, Microsoft says it is okay in general. We have added some examples of cheating/not cheating to the Cheat Policy page. Not every single possible variation is listed there. As future questions about it come up, I'll try to ensure that a request to update the page is made. However you should be able to see the pattern in the items. Most of the things we would report you for are things that Microsoft would complain about as well. There are a few things that MS might reset or ban you for, but we don't take in to consideration. It's not that we are okay with people stealing games, we just don't have any vested interest in using our resources to chase them down.

Will I be banned for World at War? I didn’t do it! This is a difficult thing to answer. I could probably talk about it for 3 hours if you have the time. I will try to break it in to chunks.

The Investigations Team does not ban people from TA. We never have. We’ve only ever removed a tag from the TA scanners. The new tracking level developments give us an additional two options. Both allow us to remove the achievements from ratio calculations (which is what the leaderboard people want) while still allowing tracking of your achievements. Some people will be given the option of retaining their TA score, while others will only be given GS tracking. The basic difference comes down to what we find on their card. I don't want to give away every detail of what we do for fear that people will start attempting to circumvent detection all together. Both of these seem to be much better than the alternative (full tracking removal). There will still be people who are not offered either form of tracking. These people in general would be considered egregious cheaters. Technically everyone could move to GS Only tracking but then we'd be using TA resources to track a bunch of cheaters that have no real reason to stop. So we have limits on what we're willing to allow to protect the site from being burdened by people who are still actively cheating.

World at War is full of hackers. As someone who has played a lot of WaW, I can attest to the number of un-killable flying enemies I’ve encountered. For those of you who popped in to a zombie lobby and suddenly got “It’s All about Prestige” and “Go Get Some Sun” at the same time. We really don’t care about that. We have a full understanding of this particular type of hacked lobby and wouldn’t ever punish someone for it. Furthermore, they are 0 point achievements, so there is no benefit to protecting their ratio. Of course this will lead people to start saying “I can cheat World at War and not worry about it? Fantastic!”. The short answer is basically yes, you can cheat prestige and we really won’t do anything. There are similar issues with other games that have hacked online lobbies. I am certainly not going to give you a list of games that you can cheat and get away with.

So what was the deal with hacked lobbies you may now be wondering? Well we were talking about World at War, just not the prestige achievements. There is another type of lobby available in World at War that allows people to unlock all of the achievements. Microsoft has previously announced that this type of cheating is not tolerated by them. After joining a lobby (generally you have to pay 1600 MSP to join these lobbies) the game will tell you to press a series of buttons and then a menu allowing you to unlock all of the achievements is displayed. This ends up allowing achievements from zombies and campaign to pop at the same time. Some people have submitted the defense that they joined a zombie lobby and every achievement has popped automatically. We have been unable to find any evidence that this type of hacking actually occurs. If someone out there has solid evidence (not "it happened to me", but something tangible) please send it to me via the link at the bottom of the Cheat Policy page.

Based on the reports I can run, there could easily be more than 1,000 TA members that have illegitimately gained access to achievements in WaW that cannot be popped at the same time. This doesn’t include people who paid to join (or accidentally joined) a prestige lobby. If you also include everyone who got both prestige achievements on the same day, it’s closer to 3,500. Considering “Go Get Some Sun” has been unlocked by 7,416 you can see that nearly half the people on TA who have it didn’t earn it. We aren’t even interested in the prestige achievements. We’re only interested in looking at the set of people who cheated the other achievements in the game.

But you said " whether it be their fault (game saving) or not (hacked lobbies)"
Yes I did say that. In my push to get the announcement out I admit that how that came across is not what I was trying to convey. Unfortunately I also didn't cover the fact that we already ignore the prestige achievements. So everyone started running around screaming the sky is falling and I don't have a way to post any information to the thread to help alleviate any of the concerns. The real idea behind that line was based on the information I shared two paragraphs ago. MS says that hacked lobbies that award achievements (outside of prestige) require overt user interaction. In this case the user has not performed any hacking themselves, but has accepted the hacking willfully. Unless we can obtain solid proof that shows us otherwise, we will continue to action against it. Again if anyone out there has something they can share about this, we are always open to new information.

It is impossible to come to an agreement on what to do here that will make everyone happy. Anyone who feels bad about cheating the game (or just upset they got caught) is going to plead ignorance or innocence. Anyone who obtained these achievements legitimately (either through normal play or boosting) is having their accomplishments watered down. If we continue to count these ill-gotten achievements normally, then we might as well allow every hacker who claims their account was stolen to count too. At that point anyone who’s smart enough to submit any defense might as well just be trusted too. This would be incredibly easier on me and the team, as we wouldn’t even be needed anymore.

If you’ve made it this far without a rage post in the thread, congratulations! To those of you who are patiently waiting for a response to get your account back, I’m sorry that we’re behind on processing your requests; we will get to everyone that sends in a message. Unfortunately some people who have already sent in a request will not be allowed to be scanned again. We just have to draw the line somewhere.
Rich Stone
Written by Rich Stone
Creator of TrueAchievements, TrueTrophies and TrueSteamAchievements. Writes site news and still finds time for the odd game here and there. Loves Racing games and Shooters, yet to be convinced that any RPG is worth the time investment!